The first two weeks of our honeymoon saw days that were packed to the brim with exploring, sightseeing and adventuring, and lots and lots of travel. We never stayed put for very long and after a few nights, we moved on to explore another region of Italy, allowing us to cover a lot of ground and discover so much of Italy’s beauty in only two weeks.
Venice – Istanbul – Mykonos – Athens – Naples – Ajaccio – Toulon – Livorno – Rome
12 nights, 9 ports, 5 countries, 3 days at sea
Aboard the Island Princess with Princess Cruises
The cruise departed from Venice but we arrived a few days early to explore the intimate canals, discover centuries of history and marvel at the dramatic landmarks of this gorgeous floating city.
Steeped in beauty and intrigue, Istanbul has been the heart of three great empires over two millennia and is the only city in the world that exists on two continents. For that reason alone, it is a city unlike any other, but add to that the opulent palaces, majestic monuments and sacred holy sites that dominate its skyline and it’s a city that beckons to be explored.
After the splendors of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, we enjoyed traditional Turkish tea while learning about the ancient art of carpet weaving, before spending an hour or so getting lost in the intriguing maze of the Grand Bazaar.
The day finished with one of the most beautiful sights in the world – sailing out on the Straits of Bosphorus at sunset. The Bosphorus Strait divides the two continents of Europe and Asia and sailing past the Ottoman palaces, castles, domes and minarets was the perfect ending to an amazing day in Istanbul.
Set within the Aegean Sea, the Greek Island of Mykonos is postcard perfect and was as dazzling as we hoped it would be. We arrived at Mykonos at midday and had until midnight to explore the island. Those twelve hours were blissful, spent leisurely wandering the maze of flat stone streets, sipping Sangria at a quaint little cafe overlooking the sea and marvelling at the island’s most recognised landmarks – a grouping of huge ancient windmills on a small hill southwest of the town.
Later, as the sun began to set, we sat on the beach at ‘Little Venice’, where the town meets the sea, and watched the sun sink below the horizon while sipping our drinks. In a word, it was perfect.
The next morning we woke to find ourselves in one of the sunniest cities in Europe, Athens. We got an early start and took the bus straight from the Port of Piraeus into the city centre. This is certainly the best way to get into the city from the port as taxi fares are extremely steep for cruise visitors.
First on the agenda was a visit to the Old Olympic Stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. Also the site of Olympic events in the 2004 Games, the Olympic spirit was palpable as we wandered the ancient track and climbed the ancient stadium.
After Old Olympic Stadium, we headed to the largest temple of ancient times, the Temple of Zeus. 700 years in the making, 15 of its columns still stand today and dominate the city centre. As someone who calls the relatively young country of Australia home, it never ceases to amaze me just how much history is contained in Europe, and none more so than Athens.
The afternoon was spent at the Acropolis, taking in the sweeping views of Athens from the top and marvelling at the greatest of all archaeological sites. A traditional Greek lunch was enjoyed late in the afternoon in the lively neighbourhood of Plaka, before heading back to the ship just before we set sail for the evening.
The birthplace of pizza and home to the wondrous Mount Vesuvius, Naples was next on the itinerary and provided opportunities to explore further afield in Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast.
As we’d already explored the Italian Rivieria and as Pompeii was on both our travel bucket lists, we opted to travel by train for a day of exploring the ancient ruins of the city of Pompeii. The train from Naples takes 40 minutes and is the easiest and most budget-friendly option for getting to Pompeii.
As if frozen in time, the UNESCO World Heritage Site provides a fascinating glimpse into ancient Roman life unlike anywhere else in the world. Heavy rain began to fall not long after we arrived at the site and a blisteringly cold wind began to blow – both of which we were completely unprepared for – so before long we found ourselves in need of some warm food and a hot drink to warm up.
The rain continued to get heavier and the wind intensified, and despite our best efforts to continue exploring in those conditions, we headed back to Naples a little earlier than expected to escape the weather.
Aside from being prepared for rain, hail or shine so your plans aren’t thwarted by the weather, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes while visiting the ruins of Pompeii. I can’t tell you the number of ladies I saw slipping and sliding around on the uneven cobblestones in high-heeled footwear!
Relatively untouched by the modern world, Corsica had been high on my travel bucket list since first learning about it in a novel by Daniel Silva. Corsica is the Mediterranean’s fourth-largest island, with astounding geographical diversity and with a whole day in front of us, we set off early to explore the island.
The mountainous interior is covered with thick forest, breathtaking valleys and towering rocky peaks, while the coastal region is home to the glittering bays and beautiful beaches familiar to the glitzy cities of the Mediterranean.
Officially part of France, Corsica is about as different to France in terms of language, customs, cuisine and traditions as you could expect. It has retained its Italian roots and the native dialect of ‘Corsu’ borrows words from French, Spanish and North African visitors over the centuries.
We loved our day in Corsica, strolling the citadel, sitting on the beach, visiting the cathedral and sipping Corsican wine, and it is the one place from our entire Mediterranean cruise itinerary that I’d most love to return one day.
Often considered a gateway to the sights, sounds and smells of Provence and the famed French Rivieria, Toulon is a city worth exploring of its own merits. Passing the French Navy fleet while boating across to the main promenade was a sight to behold, and we quickly set about on foot to explore the city.
We ventured across to the large open air Provencal market on Cours Lafayette well before 12.30pm when it closes. The varieties, colours and smells of fresh produce, cheeses, cured meats and olives made me wish I could buy one of everything, but instead we just window-shopped our way through the market aisles and watched the locals buy their weekly supplies instead.
The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying one or two delicious cups of coffee, basking in the beautiful sunshine and exploring what was undoubtedly my favourite part of the city, the harbor.
Livorno is a seaside port that is the gateway to spending a day exploring either Florence or Pisa. As we’d spent three days in Florence prior to embarking on our Mediterranean cruise, we chose to visit Pisa.
With only one day to explore, we again hit the ground running so as not to miss one of the world’s most iconic landmarks. However, I have to be honest and say that I found Pisa to be a bit disappointing and it was probably my least favourite day in an otherwise incredible itinerary.
While the tower’s lopsided beauty certainly is an incredible sight to see and shouldn’t be missed, the area surrounding this iconic landmark was so touristy and we were continually hassled by people trying to sell selfie sticks, counterfeit bags, umbrellas, you name it. While this is often par for the course when visiting such popular attractions, it was far more intense than anything else we’d experienced and it certainly made the whole experience a little less enjoyable.
We loved relaxing in the sun on the grass between the Leaning Tower and the medieval cathedral adjacent to it though before we headed back a little early to Livorno to board the ship once again.
The final port of our Mediterranean cruise and the final destination of our month of European adventures was the exquisite city of Rome via Civitavecchia. Civitavecchia is the port for cruise ships and is located a little over an hour away from Rome.
There are two options for travelling to Rome from Civitavecchia – either by train or by private car. Local trains depart every hour and take approximately 70 minutes to reach Rome. Alternatively there are a few faster InterCity trains that depart less frequently but reach Rome in as little as 45 minutes.
Given the easy departure times and the cost savings, we opted to catch a local train into Rome from Civitavecchia. By midday we were finding our way to our accommodation in Rome by the Spanish Steps. We couldn’t have been more perfectly positioned for three days of lapping up the dolce vita lifestyle and of exploring the sprawling metropolis that is Rome.